Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day in the Life of an Ironman Spectator

Guest post time from The Wife!
(Please pardon the long-windedness of this post & any errors, 
because I had to write it TWICE due to a glitch that erased half of it - yikes!)
The Wife & Little One - We are one proud family!
Pre-Game Prep

After an 8pm bedtime the night before, I shook Jason awake when his alarm went off at 3AM. (He was wearing ear plugs because our hotel was half full of ironman athletes, & half full of rowdy football fans in Tempe for the ASU/UofA game. It took a lot of convincing to get him to wear them, because he thought he would sleep through the alarm.) From that point on, I am awake for the day, but I am trying to stay quiet so our 3 year old sleeps in as late as possible.

Side note: If you are looking into places to stay, we have tried out 2. Both are great hospitable places to stay, modernly designed, & due to popularity, reservations need to be made about 11 months in advance. Here's my abbreviated take on them... Courtyard Marriott: Pricier, nice standard rooms, selling point is that it is within walking distance of all weekend events & easy to drop by your room midday if necessary; Hyatt Place Tempe: Well priced, farther distance (they do provide shuttle service), large rooms - similar to a suite (conducive to accommodating all of the crap that triathletes bring along with them for their races ;) winking), free breakfast (this year they provided gatorade, bananas, & granola bars for athletes).
After sending Jason off  with a kiss for good luck, I got ready for the long day ahead. Pack up a backpack full of snacks and drinks for the day & fill the wagon with chairs for sitting on. Our support team is eclectic, ranging in age from 3 to 80, so it serves well to be prepared. We definitely dressed in layers, because it is chilly in the morning, but sunny & warm by the afternoon. I called The Captain's wife who was staying warm in their truck in the parking garage.  The Greats (my grandparents) were waiting outside. Little One & I headed off down the hallway to the Parents' room. After knocking on their door, we discovered that they were still in their pajamas, because their alarm clocks were off by AN HOUR! Oooops! No time to delay, we had to head to the start. 

Little One's Deluxe Transportation
Meet Our Crew: My mom & stepdad (the energetic ones who run from spot to spot to enthusiastically yell for their athletes, using bike, motorcycles, and cowbells as accessories), Great Grandma (loves to brag about J),  Me (designated videographer), The Parents (photographer and child wrangler extraordinaire), Great Grandpa (Number cruncher - always keeping track of athletes splits & expected times),  Little One (super trooper daddy fan), J's Sister In Law (the smart one: always there for race start &; key cheering times, takes a break in the afternoon to do homework & do Macayos Happy Hour before volunteering at the finish line)

Our favorite place to view the swim start is from atop the East Mill Avenue Bridge. For a 7AM race start, it is necessary to get up to the bridge by 6AM at the latest. We set up our chairs in a little semi circle in effort to save space for the members of our party who had not yet arrived. I ran down under the bridge by the water & met up with Jason. He spends so much time training leading up to this race that i can't wait to watch him meet his goals. I communicated where we were standing on the bridge, so the J & the Captain could wave to us before the start. (BTW - The Parents made it to the bridge in time to wave to Jason.)

Our prime viewing spot

Swim, Daddy, Swim!

After the Pros take off, 3000 athletes jump into Temp Town Lake and make their way towards the kayak line to tread water waiting for the start gun. It is an amazing sight & it feels like the swimmers coming out from under the lake are never ending. It is a miracle that I am able to spot J nearly every time. One very smart athlete had a flashing light attached to his swim cap - BRILLIANT for easy recognition! One of my most favorite parts of the whole event is hearing the national anthem. The first year we watched, the whole lake was full of people singing along. Then they are off! An endless sea of athletes swimming towards the sunrise. 

Funny sign we saw while waiting

Now comes the tricky part. You have to decide which side of the course you want to be "trapped" on. You can either be by the lake, or outside the bike course near Mill & Rio Salado. We opted to stay "inside"  by the lake side. While walking to our "spot", my sister and I passed a woman and her children that we determined to be Eric Byrnes' family. We got a good laugh out of that ; ) We waited and watched all of the athletes run by with their wetsuits in hand to pick up their transition bags. Thankfully J's bright orange and blue jersey is easy to spot. Then we ran over to the bike chute to yell for him as he sped by on his bike.  

Good thing there was approximately 2 hours until he would be back near Tempe Beach Park on the bike loop... At this race course, they have "crosswalks" to cross the race path. Well, considering that there are about 3000 athletes & they are all speeding down a narrow race chute, that leaves little time for even more spectators to safely cross their paths during the virtually nonexistent breaks in the action! They have security regulating this, but for safety, they have to wait a LONG time to let people through. I think it was about 40 minutes before they would let 3 people at a time run across. I would love to see them construct temporary "bridges" to help with this problem in the next few years. 

We waited near the lake to watch people come out of the water for the swim. We wrote with chalk on the run path along the lake words of encouragement for the 3rd portion of the race later in the day. Watching the swim cutoff is exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time. It was amazing to watch
a guy encourage a girl the rest of the way to narrowly make their way out of the water before the time ran out. It was impossible though not to get choked up watching a woman struggle her way the whole 2.4 miles in the murky water just to be told that she missed it by a few seconds. As Mike Riley says, "You WILL come back and do it next time."

Bike, Daddy, Bike!

The next stop is along Rio Salado. The street is lined on both sides by people waiting hours to spot a glimpse of their loved ones speed by at 20+ MPH & to give them a cheer to boost their confidence before they head back out to the Beeline Highway. We pulled our wagon full of chairs and set them up behind a group of fans sitting on the sidewalk. This is not always easy... here is a video clip of one of our false alarms. 

Since we have slightly less than 2 hours to kill again, we walk down Mill Avenue to find a spot to get some lunch. There are tons of restaurants conveniently located within a very short walking distance. We chose Gordon Biersch. After my tummy was full from tapas and a pear gorgonzola salad (thanks for treating us Great Gpa!) We also dropped off all of our warm jackets at the hotel (an advantage of staying at the Marriott).

Little One with some Marathon Bar love!

The Greats returned to the hotel for a nap & The Parents, Little One, & I headed back to Rio Salado. We parked ourselves along the curb and started watching everyone who passed. at this point, both J & The Captain were making very good time & moving along faster than we expected. They were within a few seconds of each other on this lap. We took advantage of the early afternoon timing and returned to our hotel room for a brief rest. I was able to sit down, and upload some of the videos I had taken so far to the computer. 

Before we knew it, it was back to the transition area to watch the bike finish. The Greats & The Parents went to the "Run Out" area. Little One & I perched up on a planter on the southeast corner of Tempe Beach Park to await J's bike finish. To our delight, we saw him & The Captain cruise by together! We made a quick call to notify the others & then hustled down to meet up with them. J looked happy to be off the bike & on to what I normally consider his best event of the Ironman.  

Run, Daddy, Run!  

The next camp out location was under the Mill Avenue bridge. At this point, Little One could play in the dirt - she was getting a little antsy by this point in the day, but is quite a trooper. (Juice boxes, Grandma's Banana Bread, almonds, and raisins are also great tools to get preschoolers to hold still for a short amount of time.) We set up our chairs along the sidewalk. At this point, we were able to view runners on approximately the 3 mile and 9 mile point pf each of their 3 loops.  
Snack Time
As Jason came to our point at the end of his first loop, I was definitely worried. He didn't have his head held high, or  look like he could do this all day long,  in the casual way he normally appears during races. He waved, but looked tired & worn down. I knew he really wanted to finish in under 12 hours, and I was secretly hoping he could do 11:30, and wasn't really sure his spirits fit in with this plan.   

When he came by again (which would be about 3 miles later) he suddenly looked like he had much more energy.... and he was running next to a kid who I thought was a little strange, because he was smiling right at me and my camera. I would later learn that Murph, an Ironman virgin from Texas saved my hubby on his race - Thanks for that buddy! Now Jason was on his way for the second lap of the run. 

We packed up to cross over the "crosswalk" to be on the "other side" of the race course. Tempe Beach Park has a great little playground, perfect for expending preschoolers energy during the mid afternoon. I took the opportunity to grab a little Jamba Juice & nachos (I'm a sucker for the junk food at times to my husband's dismay). 
Playtime with Grandpa (Professional Child Wrangler)

Then we stood on the platform where 10 hours earlier athletes jumped in the lake to start their adventure to wait for J to come by to start his last lap. Finally we saw them - J & Murph! Whoo hoo! Kick it boys! Get moving on that last lap... you're almost an Ironman!  

We went to watch Jason at mile 21 when my daughter informed me that she had to go to the bathroom. I asked her if she could wait to see Daddy run by, and she said, "No! I'm going to poop my pants! I have to go NOW!". Ummmm. No. I did NOT bring a change of clothes for her. This is an emergency & we needed to find a port a potty STAT. Luckily, I knew that one of my co-workers from the hospital was about to start his volunteer shift at the finish line medical tent at about this time. I hustled my 3 year old over there & he snuck us in. (It is hard to find a port a potty that isn't full or doesn't have a long line by this point in the day....) We made it! Although, we got walked in on by some poor athlete & Little One exclaimed, "He sneaked up on us!"  

Whew! Off to the finish line! J's Dad had taken our wagon back to the hotel so we didn't have to deal with it & the bleachers at the finish. We all made the climb up the bleachers to watch athletes arrive at the end of their quest. In reality, if you are relatively young or old and not super steady on your feet, the bleachers are a treacherous place to be! As people saw their loved ones come down the chute, they would clear out & we were able to slowly make our way down towards the ground level. Thank goodness we did, because about 40 minutes before Jason finished, Little One became a limp sack of potatoes in my arms, passed out asleep, and never regained consciousness for the end of the night ; ) My arms were DYING trying to cradle her. I am not the ironman athlete my better half is. The only thing keeping me in that spot was knowing I would get a glimpse of Jason soon. 

[Side note of annoyance: There was this photographer with a GIANT camera leaning over the siderail completely blocking my view. That is just plain rude. If you are just spectating for the general fun of it and not watching anyone specifically, please stand a few rows back. Most of us have been up since 5am vigilantly keeping watch out for our loved ones and cheering them on all day long. We REALLY want to see them cross that finish line! Okay... I am done]  

The clock passed 11:30 and I was bummed that he didn't finish by my secret goal, but was very anxious to see him round that corner! Then @ 11:39, Murph & Jason ran past us, throwing their hands in the air to finish. The cool thing was, my mom, step dad, stepbrother, stepsister, and sister were all volunteering at the finish line at this point, so they got to see him up close and personal right when he crossed the line, and gave him his medal. 
Laughing with the Step dad about talking to Eric Byrnes

Murph, J, & my Mom
After that... The Greats & The Parents walked back to the hotel with Grandpa slinging our dead weight Little One over his shoulder... because we had already returned the wagon to the hotel... epic fail.  I set out to find Jason in the massive sea of athletes... and he obviously doesn't have a cell phone with him. (What did we do before those things?) We missed each other a little bit, because I went to the recovery area & he walked into the stands (and saw The Captain finish!). Note to self: Talk about your post race meet-up plan BEFORE race day.  

Spectating with the athlete 

To register for IMAZ, you basically have to either race or volunteer to be able to sign up for the next subsequent year's race. Last year, Jason & I both worked in the Finish Line Medical Tent towards the end of the race. We were blessed with the chance to see Chrissy Wellington party with the crowd at the midnight finish. We had so much fun that we decided to make a point to try and see it every year! 

After walking his gear back to the hotel, we got a meal at Fatburger. (We were very disappointed that they were out of skinny fries & milkshakes:(( crying) Then we looked at the clock & we still had THREE hours left before midnight!  

I am ashamed to admit it, but I complained kicking and screaming about staying for the finish. I was so tired, my feet hurt, I was cold, and I just wanted to go to sleep. Oh wait.... my husband just swam 2.4 miles (I would have drowned), biked 112 miles ( I would have quit), and ran a marathon (I would have died). But as he says, "I train for this and you don't". I think he's just trying to make me feel better... and I'll take it!  

Wouldn't you  know it, I made it to midnight. We chatted with a young kid who actually got a Kona spot that rolled down to his 3rd in age group finish the next day. We also talked with a man who came out every year to spectate and was considering attempting it himself.   

During this last hour or so, all of the Pros are hanging out in the finish chute, encouraging the athletes on their last stretch. Mike Riley (the "Voice" of Ironman who announces everyone's name all day long) is out there swinging around his towel, pumping up the crowd. All the people down in the front bang on the boards to the beat of the loud music creating a frenzied environment.  

We watched a woman who once placed first in her age group in Kona, lost her leg in a car accident, attempted post amputation to complete 2 Ironman's unsuccessfully, but was able to finish under regulation time in AZ. I saw a 74 year old man cross the finish line.... AMAZING! An older gentleman who had obviously suffered some sort of injury came around the corner being supported my 2 fellow athletes all the way to the end - what a show of sportsmanship.  When they were almost at the finish, Mike Riley stopped them and cued the entire crowd to roar, "YOU are an IRONMAN!!!!" The most nail-biting highlight was watching a woman give every last ounce of her self to make it across the finish line at the VERY last second.  Check out her photo finish. 

If you have never had the chance to experience spectating an Ironman, do it! Especially if you think you might like to attempt it yourself one day. It promises to always be an emotion filled, awe inspiring experience. I always look forward to them & LOVE to hear those words.... "Jason Wright... YOU are an Ironman!"

I am so proud of you and I love you very much Jason.


    really enjoyed reading your post and remembering the big day. . .
    only 211 days until Coeur d' Alene . . .
    edmonds vs. wright

  2. Edmonds vs. Wright vs. Wegehaupt

  3. Edmonds vs. Wright vs. Wegehaupt vs. Plowman!